With Spencer Haywood's 27-point performance leading the way, the Washington Bullets moved into third place in the NBA's Atlantic Division last night with an impressive all-around performance that should give them a positive attitude if they meet New Jersey in the playoffs.
In one of their most one-sided victories of the season, the Bullets got off to a fast start and routed the Nets, 104-88, before an enthusiastic crowd of 14,486 at Capital Centre.
The victory was the 600th of Gene Shue's 16-year coaching career, placing him fourth on the all-time list. Red Auerbach leads with 938, Red Holzman has 693 and Jack Ramsay 602.
After winning seven of their last 10, the Bullets (35-34) moved over the .500 mark for the first time since they were 22-21 Feb. 2 and are a half-game in front of New Jersey with 13 games left.
"We needed to blow these guys out to give us some confidence when we play them again," said John Lucas, who contributed 14 points and eight assists in 24 minutes of relief work.
The Nets had beaten the Bullets in both their previous visits here, but now the season series is tied at 2-2 with two games remaining in the Meadowlands.
"They invaded our turf," said Haywood after matching his previous high point total as a Bullet. "We had to prove to them that we can beat them. We couldn't afford a third loss to them at home.
"We want that home-court advantage in the playoffs," the veteran forward continued. "Now the people are starting to come out and give us some support."
The key last night was the same as in Wednesday night's win over Indiana--a fast start. With Haywood getting nine points in the first quarter, they quickly build a 21-13 advantage.
"We're not a good catch-up team," Haywood said. "If we're going to do something, we have to get off to a good start. With the type of offense we have, we can't afford to get too far behind."
Haywood, who made 10 of 17 shots and seven of eight free throws, added eight more points in the second quarter when the Bullets opened several 13-point leads, the last at 54-41 just before intermission.
The Bullets went 3 1/2 minutes without scoring early in the third period, but their aggressive team defense prevented the Nets from getting back in the game. The visitors made only three of their first 10 shots of the quarter.
"We just couldn't get back in the game," said Coach Larry Brown. "It's funny, the Bullets were shooting jump shots and making them and we were getting the ball inside and missing.
"We need everything to go right for us to win and right now Albert (King) is struggling," the coach said, referring to the rookie from Maryland who made only two of eight shots. Ray Williams, who had 32 points here Jan. 5, sank only six of his 18 attempts and wasn't able to drive and draw fouls in his usual manner.
"Before the game we talked about why the Nets beat us here twice," Shue said. "I told the players it was on individual efforts by people like King and Ray Williams. We knew we had to help out on defense and not let their top players go one on one.
"I thought we really shut them down. Williams wasn't a factor. This is the best we've played against them defensively."
The Bullets increased their advantage to 23 points (76-53) when Haywood and Greg Ballard (14 points) scored twice each in a run of 12 straight points that put the game away.
Kevin Grevey scored eight of his 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Bullets made half of their 16 shots and let Shue relax in the closing minutes for one of the few times this season.
"This victory doesn't feel any different than my 599th," Shue said over a postgame beer. "I really didn't give it any thought. Now, if someday I have more victories than anybody else, then that would be something."
Pressed to reflect on his 16 years in the NBA, Shue paused, then said, "Coaching on any professional level is a very difficult job. To stay around as long as I have indicates to me that I'm a very competent person and I'm professional in the way I do my job."